OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A state district judge has ordered that a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma state capitol grounds must be removed within 30 days.
Seventh District Court Judge Thomas Prince issued the order on Friday after he denied a motion by Attorney General Scott Pruitt, which asserted that a June order by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to remove the monument demonstrated unconstitutional prejudice against religion.
As previously reported, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the monument must be removed because it violates Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states that property cannot be used to promote a “church denomination or system of religion.”
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such,” the section reads.
The display had been proposed by Rep. Mike Ritze in 2009, and was soon after approved by the largely Republican-run state legislature. Ritze paid over $1000 for the display, and no taxpayer funds were utilized in its creation.
In August 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma filed suit against the display, asserting that its erection on the grounds of the state capitol building was unconstitutional.
The lead plaintiff was liberal minister Bruce Prescott, the director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. Prescott said that mixing the sacred with the secular in such a manner cheapens the display, and asserted that it violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
Last September, Judge Prince concluded that the monument served a historical purpose and not solely the presentment of a religious message as it sits on a plot of land that contains 51 other expressive monuments. But the case was appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court ruling. Gov. Mary Fallin refused to remove the display while an appeal was filed.
Now, Prince has upheld the Supreme Court’s order that the monument must go and is requiring that it be removed by October 12.
“Like [Prince] said, whatever somebody thinks about the decision itself in the Ten Commandments case, we live in a country where the rule of law is supreme,” ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson told reporters. “And that means once the Supreme Court has spoken, the district court here has a very clear mandate as to exactly what it has to do.”
But Pruitt issued a statement following the ruling to contend that to remove religion is to favor secularism, which is unconstitutional.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that, when it comes to religion and public life, the Constitution requires us to strike a delicate balance, ” he said. “On the one hand, government cannot use its power to establish a particular sect or denomination as the state church. On the other hand, the state cannot be hostile toward religion, discriminate against faith, mandate total secularism or refuse to recognize its own history merely because that history contemplates the divine.”
“The Constitution forbids states from banning all religion from public spaces, and from making churches the ghettos of religion where all manifestations of faith are kept separate from public life. Religious people have an equal right to participate in the public square and to have their contributions to Oklahoma history and society recognized,” Pruitt continued. “By treating religious people and things with hostility solely because they are ‘religious in nature,’ and preferring total and complete secularism instead, this broad new interpretation of the Oklahoma Constitution violates the religious protections of the U.S.Constitution.”